Earlier today, iPhone developer Sean Kovacs posted on his blog that his Google Voice client, GV Mobile, is getting pulled from the App Store due to "duplicating features that the iPhone comes with (Dialer, SMS, etc)." Kovacs says he received a call from an Apple staffer, who "wouldn't send a confirmation email either - too scared I would post it."
The app still appears in the App Store, but when you attempt to purchase it you will be told "The item you tried to buy is no longer available." We've also heard that Voice Central (another Google Voice application) is similarly no longer available for purchase.
There has been speculation that Google is preparing its own iPhone app for Google Voice, however, in light of the news that Apple 'requested' that Google make Latitude a web app instead of a native app "in order to avoid confusion with Maps on the iPhone," I wonder if we are unlikely to see such an application from Google.
MailWrangler, a native Gmail client for the iPhone was also rejected from the App Store because the "application duplicates the functionality of the built-in iPhone application Mail without providing sufficient differentiation or added functionality, which will lead to user confusion."As a heavy duty user of Gmail, I've wished for MailWrangler from the beginning. Sure you can use Gmail through Mobile Safari -- as you can use Google Voice -- but as Apple soon learned after trying to convince users and developers that web apps were all we needed, there are certain things which a native application makes much easier.
GV Mobile is a very popular application for using Google Voice on the iPhone. Apple's own phone application is great, but for Google Voice users, a native application was a nice thing to have.
I'm not sure why Apple keeps insisting that users would be confused by apps which do similar things (How many different applications are there which duplicate "Notes" functionality?), but a greater concern is the idea that a developer can work on an application, have it released to huge success, and then have Apple turn around and yank it from the App Store.
This in loco parentis attitude from Apple hurts iPhone users and developers alike. Developers like Fraser Speirs have stopped developing new applications for the iPhone and he's not the only one. (Fraser's post on Twitter was how I heard how I heard about GV Mobile being pulled from the App Store.)
I hope these are growing pains that Apple and the App Store will leave behind. Users who seek out, find, download, and install 3rd party applications are unlikely to be "confused" by the "duplication" of functionality. The fact that they sought them out is evidence that they found something lacking from the applications that Apple offers.
The App Store is wonderful, except for the parts of it which are terrible; namely, the review process (which takes too long and rejects too many apps) and the removal of applications which do no harm and which have been released for some time to great success.
UPDATE: The developers of Voice Central had an interesting conversation with Apple. Mostly involving the word "can't."